Brain Injury Conference

Southwest Times, April 20, 2003

By Bob Thomas

RADFORD – It is estimated that over 20,000 people in Southwest Virginia are living with an acquired brain injury, with effects ranging from the barely perceptible to the extreme life altering.

In fact, every 15 seconds, a person in the United States sustains a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and TBI’s occur more frequently than breast cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury. There are currently 5.3 million people living with a disability as a result of a TBI, and brain injury is the leading cause of disability and death among children and youth in the United States.

While a brain injury can be quite disruptive to a person’s own life, as well as those people who are left to care for the injured person, there is increasing help available to people in the area dealing with such trauma, and a conference scheduled for Radford University later this month will provide answers, coping methods and services for brain injury survivors, caregivers and professionals.

The Transcending Brain Injury Conference is scheduled for Friday, April 25 and Saturday, April 26 in Radford University’s Heth Hall. Sponsored by The Roanoke Valley Chapter of Brain Injury Association of Virginia and Radford University, the conference is dedicated to the memory of the late Stephen Heater, former dean of RU’s Waldron College. Heater was a significant contributor to the inception of Brain Injury Services of SWVA in the New River Valley. The conference will address issues such as the legal rights of brain injury survivors, school re-entry for students with brain injury, returning to work, making friends and your sexual side after brain injury.

Greg and Fran Rooker, founders of The Jason Foundation and Brain Injury Services of Southwest Virginia, who are helping to organize and promote the conference, say the event will bring to light the options and tools available to people dealing with the aftermath of a brain injury. The Rookers son, Jason, died in 1997 after a severe brain injury. After his death, the Rookers made it their mission to help other families get through the tough times they encountered while caring for their son for the 15-month period between his injury and death.

“There were times when we felt completely isolated and thought we were the only people going through what we were experiencing,” said Greg Rooker. “We want people to know there is help out there, and that there are services available to make life a bit easier for all involved.”

The RU conference is the first of its kind in the New River Valley. Rooker says he hopes it is the first of many.

“It’s important that people in our region have access to this kind of information, as well as the fellowship of being with people that are going through a similar situation,” he said. “Every time you light a candle of information, a little more of the darkness in the world is dispelled.”

The conference will include representatives from dozens of service providers, putting people in touch with vital services. The Honorable Diane Strickland will moderate a Friday panel discussion concerning brain injury survivors’ rights in the legal system. The participants are judges Hon. Bobby Turk and Strickland; neuropsychologist Dr. Ted Peck; neurologist Dr. Gordon Bunch; trauma physician Dr. Sydney Vail; lawyers Brent Brown and Matt Broughton, as well as Roanoke city councilwoman Linda Wyatt. They will participate in a mock trial based on a brain injury case later that afternoon.

On Saturday a nationally known dance company, Rhythms of Hope, will celebrate the successes of persons with disabilities. Composed of persons with disabilities, “Rhythms” will feature dances telling stories of how struggle, growth and rediscovery take place over time. The conference keynote speaker Al Condeluci, CEO of United Cerebral Palsy of Pittsburgh will address community resources and human services for brain injury survivors. In addition those attending will have the opportunity to hear from and question the medical director and medical case manager from a state health insurance company about third party reimbursement in brain injury cases.

To learn more or register, visit or call (540) 831-5800.


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